Riley Harper The California stuntman on feeling the fear, and doing it anyway.

Riley Harper The California stuntman on feeling the fear, and doing it anyway.

Issue 34

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Arts & Culture

  • Words Bella Gladman
  • Photograph Trevor King

Harper started racing motocross at the age of four. At 18, he booked a major gig on the blockbuster Wanted, driving with Angelina Jolie harnessed to the hood of a car.

At 30 years old, Riley Harper has already accrued almost a quarter century of experience as a stuntman. It was the family trade, and his dad got him his first job on set (falling down some stairs) when he was six. Since then, he’s spent the majority of his working life crashing cars, being set on fire and taking punches on behalf of Hollywood’s most recognizable faces. He talks to Bella Gladman about the serious work behind being a professional daredevil.

Are you a tough guy?
It depends how you look at “tough guy.” I was raised racing motorcycles, breaking bones and getting concussions—dealing with pain at a young age. But the mindset’s the tough part. The funniest thing people say when they hear what I do is, “I can do that, I’m crazy.” That’s the opposite of what you have to be. Don’t get me wrong, you have to be a little crazy. But you also have to be calculated.

How do you balance wanting to control things on set and just “going with it”?
You can prepare as much as possible, but when it comes down to it, you have to perform. The cameras turn on, and there are 100 people standing and watching. TV world is very fast-moving compared to movies—there’s no time to rehearse. You arrive, everything’s already set up, and you have to slide a car at 40 miles an hour, next to a camera with a camera operator on it. That’s nerve-racking. You’re just flying by the seat of your pants.

Do you think about danger in a more long-term capacity?
I always try to have a good chunk of money saved up so I know I’m good for six months. The potential of getting hurt’s always there. If it wasn’t, it wouldn’t be so appealing. Knowing you can get hurt makes you operate differently—your instincts come into play.

What has being a stuntman taught you about fear?
How to categorize it. There are so many different types: fear of being embarrassed, hurt, or of losing. Once you categorize it, you can accept it. Fear can make you do some amazing things, but it can stop you doing them too. It’s being able to forget about the fear and go do whatever it is that scares you. The outcome’s usually pretty awesome.

Harper started racing motocross at the age of four. At 18, he booked a major gig on the blockbuster Wanted, driving with Angelina Jolie harnessed to the hood of a car.

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